When introducing a kid to hunting, one of the most important elements to ensuring their success and enjoyment is providing them with the proper equipment - specifically the gun that they use. At a minimum, the child should be able to handle the gun safely, shoulder it properly, and of course shoot it without taking off a shoulder or knocking them down! The last thing you want to do is start a kid out with them too much gun or a gun that doesn't fit properly and cause them to become "gun shy."
Fortunately for young hunters today, there are plenty of options when it comes to choosing the right gun. With the continued push to get more youth involved in hunting and the outdoors, most all of the big firearm manufacturers now produce a variety of youth model shotguns and rifles. In fact, there are way too many options to cover in one article, or to recommend just one or two for all youth hunters. Which firearm is right for your youth hunter is really dependent on his/her size, build, shooting ability and what he/she will be hunting (not to mention mom and dad's budget!). The purpose of this article is to simply take a look at three great youth firearms, each with their own unique qualities and purpose.
Keystone Arms Crickett .22LR
When it came time to buy my son his first real firearm (I'm not counting the Daisy Buck BB gun), I was concerned about finding one that would fit his small size and limited arm strength. He just didn't have the muscle to hold up a small shotgun or full-sized .22LR. Then, one day while browsing the gun case of a local sporting goods store, I came across the ".22 Crickett" produced by Keystone Arms. At just 30 inches long and weighing in at a mere 2.5 pounds, I knew right away it would be the perfect beginner's gun. My son, Dakota, could easily lift and shoulder the gun, and after mounting a nice little 4X scope on top, it became a perfect can plinker and squirrel assassin.
The small size of the Keystone Arms .22 Crickett made it the
perfect first firearm for the author's son. Just mount a good scope
on top and you have the perfect youth squirrel hunting rig.
Knowing that the Crickett is designed for the youngest of shooters, Keystone Arms added some great safety features. The gun is a single-shot bolt action that must be manually cocked, so just loading a shell in the gun doesn't ready it for firing. In addition to manually cocking, the Crickett includes a feature that I haven't seen before on any other firearm - a keyed safety at the bottom of the stock that allows you to "lock" the gun, so that it cannot be loaded and fired. This is a great feature when storing the gun to prevent a kid from getting the gun out and attempting to load it unsupervised.
The .22 Crickett has a keyed lock built into the stock that keeps
a child from loading and firing the gun unsupervised.
Overall, the Crickett proved to be the perfect first rifle for my young son. As mentioned earlier, its small size made it easy for him to handle and with a price tag right around $100, it was easy on my wallet, as well! While I have not put the rifle through any formal accuracy tests, it has proven plenty effective on both paper targets and squirrels at the short ranges in which I allow my son to shoot. As he grows and moves on to bigger and better things, I hope to eventually pass the gun down to my daughter. Who knows, maybe someday, one of my children will pass the Crickett down to their child.
The Crickett's short stock and light weight make it a great choice for a small-framed youth.
New England Firearms Single Shot .243
While the .22 Crickett may be the perfect first rifle for a young, up-and-coming hunter, sooner or later they are going to want to graduate to larger game - and a larger firearm. Such was the case with my son after a couple of years of proving himself both safe and accurate with the Crickett. That's when the search began for Dakota's first deer hunting rig. My goal was to find a short-stocked gun that would have enough take-down power for a white-tailed deer, without an excessive amount of weight and recoil. After a little research, I narrowed my search down to something in the .243 caliber - and soon after decided on a Harrington & Richardson .243 Compact Handi-Rifle.
The H&R Compact Handi-Rifle is a great first deer rifle. Despite
its small size - at only 36 7/8 inches long and 6.75 lbs - it still
packs more than enough punch to harvest white-tailed deer.
While the H&R is considerably heavier than the Crickett at 6.75 lbs, it is one of the shortest deer rifles I could find at just 36 7/8 inches. The length seemed to fit Dakota perfect, and with the use of a good set of shooting sticks, the excess weight was not an issue.
Like the Crickett, the Handi-Rifle is a single shot that has to be manually cocked after loading - again, a great feature for a young, inexperienced hunter. However, there are a couple of things worth noting before you run out and buy the Handi-Rifle for your young hunter. First, if you are planning to mount a scope on the gun, you will need a special scope mount, as well as a hammer extender - neither are a big issue, but worth noting. Secondly, I have experienced some problems with cheaper ammunition casings not ejecting from the rifle. Obviously, this could be a big problem in the field if a follow-up shot is needed on a deer. This hasn't been an issue when using quality Winchester or Remington ammunition.
In order to mount a scope on the single shot Handi-Rifle, you will
need a special mounting plate, as well as a hammer extender - both of
which should be available at most stores that carry gun supplies.
Mossberg 500 Super Bantam 20 Gauge Shotgun
No gun collection would be complete without a good shotgun, and finding one that is just right for your young hunter can be a challenge. Not that there aren't plenty of youth shotgun options, but I had to find one that fit my son's small frame, but that he would still be able to use as he grew older. The perfect option seemed to be the Mossberg Super Bantam 20 gauge shotgun.
With all the same great features as the original Mossberg 500,
as well as the ability to grow with the shooter, the Super Bantam is
the perfect choice for a young hunter's first shotgun.
With a 12 inch length of pull, the Super Bantam was one of the shortest pump shotguns that I could find, and seemed to be the perfect fit for Dakota. What really made the gun so great, though, was that it came with a 1" spacer that mounts on the butt of the gun, extending the stock so it can grow with your young hunter. And if that isn't enough reason to pick one up, when your child gets big enough to need a full-sized shotgun, Mossberg provides you a certificate for 50% off the price of a full-sized stock. Not only did the gun turn out to be the perfect fit for my son, but with the 1" spacer in place, it also worked perfectly for my wife.
Aside from its small size, the Super Bantam is almost identical to its big brother, the Mossberg 500, which has proven itself dependable for over 10 years now. The gun I bought Dakota was the turkey model, so it came in Realtree camouflage with fiber optic sights and an extra-full choke tube. It also comes with a plug in place that only allows for one shell in the chamber - none in the magazine. Of course, this is easily removed and can be replaced with whatever size dowel rods suit your needs.
These days, there are plenty of great youth firearms out there for your young hunter, and most will do an adequate job for teaching the fundamentals of shooting and getting your young hunter out in the woods to hunt. The most important thing is to find one that fits the child well and that they can handle both comfortably and safely. If you have a small-framed child, as I do, then consider one of these three great firearms to get them started. All have proved safe, reliable and plenty accurate to get the job done. With the proper equipment, your young hunter will be on their way to a lasting love of hunting and the great outdoors.
Brian Grossman is a wildlife biologist, freelance writer and avid outdoorsman from Mt. Washington, Kentucky. You can visit his web site at www.PoorBoysOutdoors.com .